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Good That Delights
As virtually all Christians know, the word gospel means “good news.” But we must not stop there. There are two different kinds of good news, and it is important for us to keep straight in our minds which kind the gospel this is.
The first kind of good news might be described as bolt-from-the-blue good news. It requires no particular context. If you received the news one day that a distant relative had died, leaving you with untold millions, that would be this particular kind of good news. This is good news that stands on its own.
Good That Delivers
But the other kind of good news requires an antecedent understanding of bad news. This is the good news of deliverance, which means you need to have a grasp of what you are being delivered from. If you are about to be executed in the morning, and your attorney drops by with the information that the governor has just signed a pardon, this would be good news of the second sort. But think about it for a moment. If you received news that the governor had signed a pardon, but for some reason you did not know that you were on death row, the good news could not be received by you as good news. It would just bounce off.
This is why the famous invitation given by Isaiah makes sense.
"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." Isaiah 1:18
It makes no sense if we read this verse as saying something like, “though your life is already white as anything, God promises to make it just as white.”
So in the first scenario, good news just arrives, surprising everyone, and we must come to grips with the fact that the gospel message is not like that. In the second scenario, the bad news arrives first, and then the good news.
Theologians describe this as law and gospel. John the Baptizer described it as “repent and believe.” Repent of what? The answer to that is the bad news. Believe what? The answer to that is the good news—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
When They Deny the Disease
When we speak of “straight-line gospel,” that straight line has to run right through the condition of man. But this leads to a very practical problem for the evangelist or apologist. The whole human race has spiritual bone cancer, and most of them refuse to acknowledge it. We Christians know of a cure for spiritual bone cancer, which will not be used by people who do not believe they have the disease. The good news is irrelevant to them because of their rejection of the bad news. The practical problem is that this is a hard sell. No one wants to hear that diagnosis from us, and they sometimes get agitated if we persist in trying to explain it.
Don’t Be Deterred
This is why courage is a necessary character trait for the faithful evangelist or apologist.
This is why there are such persistent attempts within the Christian world to change the good news from one kind of good news to the other kind. We would much prefer to go door-to-door like those guys with the balloons delivering a yard-long check from the Publishers Clearing House than to be the guy banging on someone’s door in the middle of the night in order to tell them their roof is on fire. Sometimes confused apologists get stuck between the options. They see the fire, and they bang on the door, and when the guy answers it, they ask if he has any felt needs. They wonder if he would like to experience his best life now.
Jesus is the answer, but he is the answer to the dilemma posed by the fact of man’s sinfulness and the inevitability of God’s judgment. The fact that he is the answer does not mean that he is the answer to whatever wish-fulfillment daydreams we might have going on.
The apologist must therefore have a grim and good understanding of the human condition. And he needs to have the courage to be able to say what that is, and the ability to defend what he has said.